Has the shoe migrated to the other foot?
Seems like it was only a few months ago the State Department was the one making vague but pointed comments about China -- specifically about its new aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang. American diplomats said they wanted China to "explain" why it was fielding the ship, as if that weren't clear.
Now China is the one asking for an "explanation," per an English-language account in the China Daily: Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy is in Beijing for meetings with her top counterparts, and it probably did not take long before the Chinese brought up U.S. plans to rotate a 2,500-troop Marine Air-Ground Task Force through Australia in the coming years.
Here's how it went down, per China Daily:
Michele Flournoy, US undersecretary of defense for policy, told Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army General Staff, that Washington's planned deployment in Australia is not aimed at containing China.Still, the story did not make it sound as though this hangup ruined Flournoy's visit. Overall, she and the Chinese apparently made good progress, under the circumstances:
Flournoy made the remarks at a briefing at the US embassy in Beijing. She said Ma asked about Washington's intentions behind the plan to locate as many as 2,500 US Marines as well as aircraft and ships at a base in Darwin, northern Australia.
"We assured General Ma and his delegation that the US does not seek to contain China. We do not view China as an adversary," she said, adding that the moves were "first and foremost" about strengthening US-Australia ties. US President Barack Obama announced the deployment plan on a trip to Asia last month, during which he said the US was "here to stay" in the region. China's military denounced the plan, warning that it could erode trust and fan Cold War-style antagonism.
Flournoy also said the two countries were hoping to hold military exchanges and joint counter-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden that had been postponed in the wake of US arms sales to Taiwan.Though American officials have not -- and may never -- openly acknowledged the Marines' rotations through Australia was about giving China something to think about, that has been its effect. For a few weeks, Beijing has been on its back foot, diplomatically speaking. How long can that last? And does Washington have anything else up its sleeve to keep the pressure on after this move?
The China-US defense consultative talks (DCT) were held on Wednesday in the Chinese capital. This was the first high-level meeting of US and Chinese defense officials since Washington angered Beijing in September by announcing an arms deal with Taiwan. Beijing later delayed some planned military exchanges with the US.
A news release issued by the Ministry of National Defense on Thursday said the DCT was "candid and constructive" and "reached the expected target".